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Analysis: Huskies finally give coach Mike Hopkins 40 minutes of dominance

Washington forward Nate Roberts dunks against Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Washington forward Nate Roberts dunks against Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Percy Allen Seattle Times

Finally, the Washington Huskies put it all together and gave coach Mike Hopkins the all-out, 40-minute dominant performance he has been seeking all season.

“They had a great focus and they had great energy,” he said after Washington’s 72-40 blowout victory over USC on Sunday night. “Those are two things I always believe in with any defense that you play. You’ve got to be able to compete with focus and energy.

“I was really, really happy with the performance.”

Just how happy?

Well, Hopkins was unable to nitpick a 32-point blowout – UW’s most lopsided victory in nine years – but we’ll try.

Here are three impressions.

Introducing, Nate Roberts

Hello, Nate Roberts. Where have you been?

Before Sunday, the 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman forward had played 36 minutes and 35 seconds while scoring six points and collecting nine rebounds in eight games.

Curiously, it was a diminished role for the oversized Roberts considering he starred this summer during Washington’s four exhibition games in Italy and Hopkins had touted him during the preseason as the team’s most improved player.

But Roberts had made only mop-up-duty appearances before last Thursday when he played six minutes in the first half. In that game, Roberts did not play in the second half of the 66-64 defeat against UCLA.

Hopkins said he noticed something different from Roberts in recent practices, which partly explains why the seldom-used reserve received more minutes Sunday.

But perhaps more to the point, Roberts was pressed into action after Isaiah Stewart drew his second foul with 10 minutes left in the first half. Hopkins wasn’t willing to gamble on Stewart picking up a third foul and turned to Roberts and backup forward Sam Timmins.

Timmins was solid in 12 minutes, but Roberts made the most of his time on the floor.

It’s almost silly how seven points and seven rebounds can generate so much excitement, but you had to be inside Alaska Airlines Arena to feel the energy resonate from Roberts’ three rim-rattling dunks in the first half.

“You saw tonight with guys like Nate who brought energy to the game,” Hopkins said. “He brought a positive energy that got the crowd going (while) making those plays.”

When Stewart checked out, Washington led 14-12. Without their leading scorer, the Huskies took a 35-21 lead into halftime.

Roberts played a career-high 22 minutes at the expense of junior forward Hameir Wright, who tallied a season-low 12 minutes and 33 seconds.

No-fly zone

Not sure you’ll ever see many 12-1 disparities in blocked shots.

Washington negated USC’s big front line with a swarming, ball-hawking attack reminiscent of the team last season that was led by national defensive player of the year Matisse Thybulle.

The Huskies were everywhere. More to the point, Jaden McDaniels was everywhere.

After fouling out in just 13 minutes in his previous outing, the freshman standout rebounded and had his most impressive defensive performance. The 6-foot-9 forward with the 7-1 wingspan blocked six shots, which was the most since Thybulle had six last season and two shy of a UW record.

McDaniels also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, which offset three turnovers and a poor-shooting night when he converted 3 of 12 shots for 11 points.

“I thought a big part of the game was him not getting into foul trouble,” Hopkins said while noting McDaniels’ two fouls.

Nahziah Carter had four blocks and Stewart two to contribute to a season-high 12 blocks for Washington.

The Huskies victimized touted freshman forward Isaiah Mobley (four points) who had six of his 13 shots blocked. And senior forward Nick Rakocevic (six points) had four of his 14 shots rejected.

Washington entered the game ranked 10th in the nation, averaging 6.2 blocks.

‘Two different teams’

The dominant display Sunday against streaking USC, which had won six consecutive games, only makes the first-half malaise of the 66-64 upset defeat Thursday against UCLA more confusing.

“Two different teams,” sophomore point guard Quade Green said. “Y’all see a 30-point win today and the loss to UCLA. We should have never lost that game. We had to come out and lay one on them today.”

That’s an understatement.

USC’s 40 points were the fewest for a UW opponent in a Pac-12 game since the Huskies beat Oregon State 50-40 on Feb. 10, 1996. The Trojans shot 13 of 65 from the field, including 2 of 15 on three-pointers.

It wasn’t a perfect game for the Huskies, but it’s easy to overlook their 18 turnovers in a game in which they collected a season-high 14 steals and force 22 turnovers.

The Trojans (12-3, 1-1 Pac-12) seemingly are a better team than the Bruins (8-7, 1-1), who lost 79-71 in overtime at Washington State on Saturday.

With a better start Thursday, the Huskies (11-4, 1-1) would be standing alone on top of the Pac-12 standings at 2-0.

Instead, UW is in an eight-team tie for third place.

The unexpected home defeat puts pressure on the defending Pac-12 regular-season champions to capture an early road sweep when Washington travels to Stanford and California this week.

Last season, the Huskies were 7-2 in conference road games, including a 4-0 start with victories at Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State. Washington split the trip last year to the Bay Area, posting a 62-61 victory at Stanford and a 76-73 defeat at Cal.

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